Big-Flea Bargains

Hunting for kitsch or low-cost, East Coast's largest flea market fills the bill

The origin of the term ”flea market” is a bit complicated.

Google it and you’ll find that some believe it’s meant to describe buyers and sellers interacting with each other and merchandise like fleas. Others roll with the idea of it describing secondhand goods, ones that might be infested with fleas. The latter description doesn’t hold up, however, when taking into account the many items that will be on offer at the D.C. Big Flea Market at Chantilly’s Dulles Expo & Conference Center on Jan. 10 and 11: art, jewelry, glass decorations, antique furniture, collectibles and, most importantly, bargains.

”A lot of items that are comparable to things that are knock-offs or reproductions can be found for cheaper at the show than what you would buy them for in a store,” says Ray Felton, of D’Amore Promotions, which runs the market.

”There are bargains galore…. I bought a really nice Italian-glass, 1950s sculpture at one of the last shows, and it was probably worth $500 or $600. I picked it up for $75.”

Felton does advise that shoppers need to have a little experience under their belts when scoping for authenticity, but as a general rule he says it’s best to ”question the dealer.

”And if it’s something that you like, and you need it or you want it, buy it.”

Over the past 11 years, the D.C. Big Flea Market has grown from hosting 600 vendor booths in one building, to the upcoming event, which includes 1,100 booths, spread among two buildings.

”The dealer base has grown and the dealers are still doing well at the show. Even with this economy, I think overall the dealers are still doing very well. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be traveling from as far as away as they do. The customers like it, too, because they keep coming back.”

One vendor slated to showcase merchandise at the Big Flea is Russell Hoffman, selling pressed glass and other decorative items.

”If you have anything in your mind that you want to buy, you’ll find it there,” Hoffman says. ”There are lots of decorative items too, not only antiques. It’s a real mix of things,” which he says usually includes imported mahogany furniture, silver and Hummel figurines.

”Even if you don’t want to buy anything, just to go and look it’s unbelievable,” he says. ”It’s big.”

For those looking to spend several hours browsing, Felton promises that there will be a snack bar at the Expo Center, along with vendors who will be selling foods such as cakes and chocolate.

”You can see so much more merchandise in one day at that show, than you can just about anywhere in this area,” says Felton. ”There’s millions of collectibles and antiques, and you see dealers from at least 25 to 30 states. So unless you travel a whole lot, you would not see these dealers.”

While the Internet has made shopping globally for antiques easy, Felton insists it’s just not the same.

”eBay is not a hands-on experience. You can’t pick up the item and look at it and examine it and see if there are any flaws. This is a hands-on experience.”

The D.C. Big Flea Market is scheduled for 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 10, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 11, at the Dulles Expo & Conference Center, 4368 Brookfield Corporate Drive, in Chantilly, Va. Admission is $10 at the door. For more information, call 757-430-4735 or visit www.damorepromotions.com.

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